Swinging Modern Sounds #6: The Transcendental Signifier

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Note: to the readers of this intermittent bulletin, I recognize in what follows that I am violating the compact I made a couple of months ago, to cover only unsigned, unreleased, or self-released music, and I want to assure you that I take that compact seriously, and will return to it very soon. Nevertheless, I have spent the last ten days or so having the following exchange with my good friend, the poet (and critic) Michael Snediker, on the new album by Antony and the Johnsons, The Crying Light. Since in the meantime I am trying to finish for this venue some notes on repetition in the genre known as grindcore, I’m attaching my exchange with Michael as a stopgap, with the hope that—despite its subject being a more established artist—it will be of some genuine intrigue to people interested in the voice and point of view published herein. I promise to get back to my regular beat very soon. In what follows, Michael goes first, and I reply, etc.

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Dearest Monsieur,

this is preliminary, in part because i have this inclination that i ought be writing about Antony in different weather. this morning was snow upon snow, such that erranding felt like alpine skiing. and now it’s glaringly bright, which feels at least as i type somehow at odds with thinking about a voice that is brightwithout glare. the color of last night’s prestorm sky was a closer bright. a mauve that seemed to have its own various textures, as it was hatched by streetlight and flurry. am i being too selfaware in this? maybe. lots may be excised tho mostly am trying to write something adequate to my thinking, which is far from lucid, per se, after

aforesaid errands. antony’s voice for one makes me think of walter benjamin. his voice as the lovechild of trauerspiel and aesthetic aura. the glimmer and heat-sylph that might form as a building is collapsing and/or becoming something else, a voice that is turret and rootcellar all at once. hence verticality, not just down one’s spine, but architecturally flickering, or up and down a lightning rod. a voice that is both the lightning and the rod. spare the rod/spoil the child. antony’s voice as both the rod and the child and the spoils. somehow spare and sparing spare. all of which needs context. i will find in benjamin what i’m thinking of anon. antony exceeding herm-aesthetic as offering the voice of child and mother at once. child and mother keening together as occupying either side of grief, and grief, like a dickinson poem. grief not inseparable from desire (of the child, for a desire already that exceeds that of the mother—spoiled child indeed), but affectly meticulous. how to be a ruin (trauerspiel) and meticulousness, at once. as tho his voice’s quiver is both proof and effect of this capacity for simultaneity. proof, effect, and cost.

again, preliminary. but a beginning. i have Kiss My Name stuck in my head. his exhortations are haunting. in part because the glass of his eyes seems even in that meticulousness nondefinitive. are those tears, is that wind, are those former of joy or something else. the lightning rod, the quavering sizzle of meticulously becoming something else so very quickly and also oppositely so luxuriously. one axis across another. nonperpendicular. maybe like last night’s mauve sky? the mauve as reliant on the flurry, the streetlight, as vice versa. we’ll see where this goes. much care, regardless of where goes, i’m grateful for you for this occasion to at least attempt to think about why i’m so infatuated with antony’s voice.

xoxoxo m

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Dear Michael,

The issue I guess I want to explore with Antony today is the unpower of Antony—the word that Derrida uses when he’s talking about Artaud. In Artaud’s case (about whom I’m still writing at present, and so I have a lot to say about him), the sexual images are almost always intersexed (“I take you into me,” he says in his early love < letters, and then later it’s all eunuchs (“But what a beautiful image is a eunuch”) and uteruses—he likes the graphicity).

I would suggest that perhaps a similar dynamic is in play in Antony’s presentation. He is woman and he is man and he stands for transgender songwriting, by virtue of his thematic choices. For example, I Am a Bird Now had Candy Darling on the cover, and the album includes “My Lady Story,” and “For Today I Am a Boy,” both of which are, uh, very direct on the subject. But then Antony really is a boy (or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that he’s a man, even though “For Today I Am A Boy” defers any certainty), even as he is singing counter-tenor (mother and child, as you say), and singing about wanting to be a woman. Still, I experienced this less as a will-to-sexual-reassignment-surgery than I experience it as a will-to-unpower, a critique of a certain kind of, for lack of a better term, rock music. With I Am a Bird Now, that was all apparent in the wistful arrangements and in the bracing explicitness of the lyrics. A-will-to-unpower, marginalia, self-empowerment. But then the arrangements were really rock and roll arrangements. As on my favorite song on the album, “Fistful of Love.” Which really has Lou Reed’s Transformer as its pretext. Or maybe Ziggy Stardust. Because it is delicate, pianistic, but with a genuine rhythm section (and thus it breaks down rock and roll, empties it off its phallicity, at the same time as it participates in this history), but also because it seemed to be about masochism and getting fisted. “I feel your fist, and I know it’s out of love.” And so on. The Hidden Cameras did this a lot on their first album too, but in Antony’s case, when it’s mixed with the incredible vulnerability of the voice, it’s a totally different thing. It’s not funny. He’s almost daring you to say it’s funny.

I do think this is like Artaud, in some ways. Artaud was straight, but he was clearly unsexed in the theater of his work, unmanned, and experienced himself that way. He seemed, on the one hand, only to exist as this neutered body, and, at the same time, to aspire to being a body without organs (in the famous Deleuzian formulation borrowed from Artaud himself). This transit into body-less-ness is a tremendous and, well, transgressive journey, and in a contemporary musician, it is dramatic (well, Antony got his start in theater, right? he probably knows his Artaud). This presentation of self as a kind of martyrdom. But then the other thing to remember to say is that I Am a Bird Now is undeniably moving. It moved me a great deal. It’s an abdication of power in a musical setting, at the same time as it’s really powerful, moving, and, well, sexy.

My question is, though, is the new album, The Crying Light, simply too good to do the same thing effectively? If it just sounds exactly like a Nina Simone album, is it not mannerism? I’m asking this, having not had enough time yet to talk about specific lyrics, so I’m just responding to the sheen, the veneer.

Love, r.

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i’m interested in “for lack of a better term.” in part because the latter formulation reminds me again of Antony’s tremolo, as though the absoluteness of his voice were always at odds with itself or with what it sings. in terms of oddness, oddness of what one sings i think about Stephanie Blythe’s rapturous performance as Orfeo, a role meant for a countertenor, in the hands of a mezzo who on stage, in mizrahi’s costume, looks a bit like Tony Soprano. what does it mean to look like a counter-tenor, or not look like a counter-tenor, as a version of your wondering about sexual reassignment.

when i last was with antony, several years ago, he looked a bit like early-70s Liz Taylor. he had the hairdo of a disheveled Butterfield 8. and was gorgeous, in the way an empire is gorgeous before its depletion, and at the same time to go back to my earlier benjaminian analogue an empire that seemed less vulnerable on account of its already having courted and weathered all it had courted. what if lot’s wife hadn’t turned to salt. what if lot’s wife had become a brilliant spanner in rock music. or something. obviously in my own ambivalent relation to embodiment (chronic pain, eating disorder—), i’m drawn to what in antony seems both somatic and beyond the somatic. his voice as both syncopation and synchronization with his body, as such. i’m conscious of how often i’m invoking some notion of simultaneity, which i don’t think necessarily is a tropaic tic. i think the weird confluence of conjunction and disjunction speaks in a lot of ways to the auditory, but also speaks to some extent to what in Antony seems most sexy—that he somehow is orfeo and euridice all at once. not to get into reader relations, &c. but this maybe is a sort of UNPOWER. euridice being powerless. and orfeo being powerless. and the only ligature (for orfeo, monteverdi, gluck) being song.

i do think that Antony is daring us to adjudicate funniness. is soliciting valuation. and this also is severely vulnerable a position, he’s the bullied child and the redemption of a bullied child, all that the bullied child fears in himself and what might offer consolation. my attachment, in a different fashion, to Katrina and the Waves, before i realized that Walking on Sunshine was in fact an incredibly vertiginous and nonconsoling proposition. whether The Crying Light is “too good.” i think its being “TOO” is what matters most to me. it’s not simply fantastic, and not simply disorienting. lord knows i dont want to slip into the unheimlich, and thank heavens for a sense of gratuitousness in the album’s greatness. a gratuity already announced in its repetition of tracks. sounding like nina simone is one thing. and i did in fact, falling asleep last night, thinking of your email, have Nina in my head—my baby just cares for me. what’s ruthless about antony, sometimes, is that he’s a voice for caring, overcaring, without, necessarily, designatable object for/of caring. which is different, for instance, from the utopic of Whitman. Antony seems both to be troubadour par excellence (and in the disembodiment that IS often the experience of listening to him, versus SEEING him—he’s also inhabiting the wings of Cyrano, his own voice and the voice of someone else—a mezzo singing as counter-tenor) and to ironize the passions of the troubadour. hence the abstraction of I’m going to miss the birds, i’m going to miss the trees. what if, to go back to theatrics, Antony was not only aware of the 4th wall, but was the fourth wall, what if the fourth wall could sing, what if the fourth wall were a very large man who looked like liz taylor who made one fall in love with love songs that were radically evacuated of particularity, maybe or maybe not replaced with/ displaced by some other non-diegetic form of particularity? how like a black hole does Antony’s own particularity absorb other forms of itself, its pathos? what is the experience (acoustically, erotically) of feeling so particularly absorbed? because if one speaks of mannerism, one thinks also of the livid colors of mannerist ascension. at least i do. pontormo. there’s more to say, tho perhaps this is good for today’s missive. by the way, candy darling was born within a year or two (depending on whom one asks) of my folks, and grew up in the same town (massapequa). what if what if if only if my mom had known a pre-candy candy. which might be poetic justic for her son’s being his own sort of candy. darling.

love. m

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Michael,

This morning I have the two most recent Antony albums on, and I’m allowing iTunes to veer haphazardly between the two, and I’m starting to hear more nuances in this new Antony, and also I’m finding that some of my first impressions of The Crying Light persist. But I don’t want to talk about that yet, or about “Another World,” which you allude to specifically, and on which I have entirely reversed myself (I disliked the vagueness of the lyrics at first, but then I came to find them luminous and inviting). What I want to talk about was how I was at this dinner with a couple of very agreeable and sort of brilliant guys (and one woman! Also brilliant! But who elected to remain silent during this portion of the conversation!) who are reasonably well-known indie rock types, and much of the dinner turned on the disappointment of the Rolling Stones, and so on. But then because I was thinking about Antony, I decide to ask these guys (and one woman!) what they thought of Antony, because I thought I would get an interesting reaction. And I did. These guys just lit into Antony. One of them was really mad about Antony singing “Candy Says” with Lou Reed in the Berlin movie. Now I happened to see the Berlin recreation live, the theatrical performance thereof, and I found Antony one of the most transporting moments in what was a fascinatingly post-modern event (recreating the album exactly as was, complete with choir and string section), and I didn’t find his “Candy Says” anything but a great relief after the pitchless Dietrich croak of Lou. My friend indicated that there were many great rock counter-tenors (I adduced Robert Plant, kinda joking), but he somehow found it irritating, or so it seemd to me, that a countertenor had to be gay, or, perhaps androgynous in his presentation, in order to serve this roll. Then the other friend weighed in, with a bit of an assault on Antony’s vibrato. Admittedly, he was very hesitant to talk this way, and felt like he was being politically incorrect by doing so. But in the end I think his reservation was simply aesthetic. He would say, I think, that Antony has been lured into a certain way of conducting his evolution by the forces of the music business, viz., the exotic qualities of this vibrato are really new, so please do this over and over and over, this really NEW VIBRATO! It did cross my mind, however, that these two guys, these guy guys, found something powerful to resist in Antony. And of course I worry as a person with a rather complicated libido, that there are parts of my self that I am disliking by disliking some of The Crying Light.

But here’s the thing. Part of me hates art, just really reviles art (and this reminds me of Artaud on literature: “All writing is garbage—people who come out of nowhere to try to put into words any part of what goes on in their minds are pigs”), and everything that is associated with high art. Stylish people, well-dressed at art openings, and, yes, opera. Part of me just reviles opera. You know this about me. And I recognize that this is just biting the hand that feeds, but there it is. And it’s for this reason that I often really distrust and hate whatever music is, at the moment, being wrapped in the mantle of art. For example, I violently disliked that Joanna Newsom album entitled Ys. To me that is one fussy, uptight, excessively mannered (Pontormo!) album. It just reeks of pretense and a sophomoric need to do something to the tenth power when nine of these exponential increases are entirely unecessary. Another good example would be, e.g., Matthew Barney. I just think Matthew Barney flattens, with his cremaster, everything he touches. He squeezes all the spontaneity out, until life is, in Matthew Barney’s world, predictable and unpleasant and smells like a teenage boy’s sweaty wrestling gear.

The Crying Light has that unfortunate reputation, already, of aspiring to the condition of art. And maybe this is the interpreters who are doing this. But it doesn’t help, for me, that it has Nico Muhly doing some of the arranging, because he is, after all, the It Boy of high classical art at the moment. And some of the songs on The Crying Light, for me, do have arrangements of startling elevation. “Daylight and the Sun,” e.g. And “Aeon,” the beginning has HARP! Before it gives way to what is essentially my favorite bit of the album, the bluesy double-tracked electric guitar, and the moment when Antony falls down into his chest voice, and does some genuine erotic longing. Nico Muhly is the tuxedo-wearing aspect of the album. But I like the rock moments, the glam moments, the sexy moments, when Antony is nothing more than a soul singer, and a particularly visceral kind of soul singer. (I felt this way when I saw him in Berlin, that his strange neurologically challenging singing style resembles that ticcing behavior that used to animate Joe Cocker in the late sixties.) But I am also these days very transfixed by Otis Redding, and I spend a lot of time thinking about Otis Redding, and there are resonances, conjunctions here too. Antony, in the moment of longing, gets hold of a phrase, and he completely wrings every bit of passion from it. Daylight! Daylight! Daylight! Exactly the way Otis Redding does it. Another example, of course, is the cool vibrato of Bryan Ferry. In fact, initially, when everyone was saying Nina Simone, I was thinking about the Bryan Ferry of the middle period of Roxy Music. Stranded, let’s say, when Ferry was still playing his piano. Anyway, the point here is that on the one hand, I hear all the transgender thematic material in this singer, but I also here a lot of resonances with the great masculine soul tradition too. And frankly I am more rapt when he is using the instrument to be brave about exactly who and what he loves, as on the song that you led me to, “Cripple and the Starfish,” from his first album, which is just an entirely different thing.

Am I suggesting that the explicitness of the lyrics are where the risk is just because I’m not the one who has to write about? Because I have liberty of not being, as you say, the bullied kid growing up and making good? Am I wrong to want him to risk the way he used to risk, because I am not a gay artist who has to live in the capitalist world experiencing what it is like to be a “niche artist,” when all the straight guys (or the straight women, in the case of the music world) get to go out there and make records or write books that are about straight life, which, apparently “everyone” wants to know about? Is it easy for me to say all this? When you say “radically evacuated of particularity,” it’s perhaps this that you are saying, and it’s much more the case on The Crying Light than it is on I Am a Bird Now, or on the first album. It’s an issue that Stephin Merritt, to use another gay artist at hand, has faced (and he’s something of a friend of mine, so I think I can talk about it without feeling like I’m introducing a gay artist haphazardly, or in order to ghetto-ize Antony). And he has dealt with this situation by multiplying and complicating the surface of all those love songs: girls singing about girls, men singing about men, gay men singing love songs to women, gay women singing to men, and so on. Here the concentration on identification in the love song is interrupted, or made secondary—to the sheer showoffy brilliance of the songwriting and the melody. Antony is going at it another way, this time, he’s emptying the song of its love song particularities, although the complexes of gender and desire lurk beneath, on, e.g., “Her Eyes Are Underneath the Ground.”

The loss of particularity may be why there is so much death and afterlife in Antony. I mean, there’s a lot of masochism, too, but masochism can be very uplifting, and enthusiastic, and, well, lively. But Antony is full of eschatological longing, and you hear it here, to my way of thinking, especially, on “Another World” and “Dust and Water,” and also on the cover of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” which clearly influences “Another World.” This listener does perform the listener’s dance of identification here, too, thinking that he is the bullied kid, the dissheveled Liz Taylor boy who turns out to be kind of a genius, but who just can’t live with it. I want him to feel better, want to, as listener, rescue him somehow, and I want the music to occasion the release, which it doesn’t really do.

Meanwhile, I’m also thinking of Sontag’s “Notes on Camp.” I guess this is the only way I can rationalize the album’s big glam moments, like “One dove, to bring my some peace! In starlight you came to bring mercy!” That it is campy, and he is daring us to think that it’s a little campy, and he’s saying that all music is campy, and that when he really lays on the vibrato thick, it’s always on these campiest moments, and as Sontag says camp is really a protective gesture, a meta-narrative over what is “organic” in culture, and a way of processing it that says, it’s different for me. I feel like I’m responding to the album a little bit like a straight guy (though not resisting it like my straight friends from dinner the other night), in that I want a deeply felt first-person narrative. I suppose I want a first-person narrative of the horrors and delights of gay life. And that is not what we have here.

That’s where I am with it today. I am really liking “Another World” now, though, and “Aeon” too.

Love, r.

*

Wow, there’s a lot to say, as ever. I was grading papers on Septimius and thought Fuck it I WANT TO WRITE TO RICK. I’m not even sure as i type what i want to say, which is to say, in honor of our shared frustration with CREMASTER, this is Non-Premeditated. contra Antony, of course who premeditates. who performs meditation as though it were spontaneous when of course there’s always some component in music that is not extemporaneous. difference btwn a Barthesian punctum and the photo itself, etc. There is, of course, a lot in Antony’s corpus (as it were) that intransigently is indebted to and extending what for lack of better words we might (pedantically?) call a Masculine Soul Tradition. there’s also something of the gregorian, something of the baroque, and lord knows there’s always something gay in any baroque instantiation of masculinity. as tho “my lady’s story” hearkened to a moment when one spoke of lords and ladies, transplanted to working class England.

working class is something to think about as much as sexual orientations and disorientations. not that i know anything, biographically speaking, about such things, re: Antony. but he’s a hybrid in a hybrid genre, contra, for instance, Rufus Wainwright, whose pedigree, whose version of gay confessional indulgence way more often than not drives me crazy. not in good ways. He seems likes Roderick Usher with blueballs and a lilt. if one wants horrors and delights of a gay life, there’s always Rufus. with a bright pink bow. Rufus seems gayer than Antony, and Antony seems queerer. which i guess is a truncated way of saying Antony strikes me as more interesting, more salubriously troubling. the generic quality of his lyrics reminds me of FLOW CHART or Stein—the fantasy of Everybody’s Autobiography. turning the confessional on its head. or maybe turning it upside down, butt up. particularity, or at least the staging of particularity, seems to occur in Antony, as we’ve already intimated, less on the level of lyric than register of voice. if your indie-rock guys over dinner articulated, in the end, a kind of resentment with what in Antony seems disingenuous, then one might well say that the Disingenuous is Antony’s subject AND his context. disingenuity isn’t queer or non-queer and wouldnt necessarily accrue particulars (of a life, of a song) until after the fact. i’m transfixed by the hydraulic in a lot of Antony’s songs, that saturation and vocal extravagance are in service of an apposite emptying. and vice versa. which goes back to your thoughts on Sontag. to say camp is a protective gesture might too quickly foreclose the extent to which camp also potentially is the performance of a protective gesture. lord knows in a sort of queer pantheon (not beginning but settling, eg, in Patty Duke’s Valley of the Dolls), the rise to fame [sic] is itself a volatile topos. and Antony, like Iphigenia, seems to offer himself for the sacrifice, not unaware of the theatrics involved, in part because not entirely credulous that the sacrifice is real. which is different from believing or not believing that the sacrifice will have consequence: it will. which makes Antony a version of both Iphigenia and Euripides’s absented proxy-Helen. there’s something beyond queer masochism in Antony’s starfish song—it’s not just that the voice, the person can endure aggression, require aggression, court aggression, but in a terribly realist (i do think it’s a form of realism) gesture, similar to Emerson (cf EXPERIENCE) grieving his inability to grieve, that he is in fact inexorable. his body (the voice, the performed body in limbo, the performed body as elephant in the room, great, preposterous inertia attempting conversion or alchemy through the disembodying effects of a voice) remains.

i think one of the things i like about Antony’s flavor of camp is that it’s so imbricated with its own melancholic self-realization. to which gay boys listening to Antony certainly don’t have exclusive claim. lord knows when i listen to antony he seems less like a refraction of what i might sing, but the very sort of thing (Freud’s Ding, the Freudian “It”) i wouldn’t sing.

it’s sloppy to suggest that Antony operates as a sort of unconscious, and as i move into psychoanalysis, i recall i still owe you thoughts on Lacans little “a.” i wonder how the little “a” relates to the BIG “A” that is Antony. he’s not just the capricious and harrowing upsurge of the real into the symbolic (an overly succinct account of the Lacanian objet), he is a proof of the symbolic’s spoiling unto itself, as tho spoilage leads to spoilage. his voice is one of spoiledness. in terms of over-ripeness. and it’s both THIS IS WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO ME and THIS IS WHO I AM, What I’ve Become. a damaged fruit. i wonder what your dinner companions would think of that taxonomy. i’ll send this off now, in the spirit of unpremeditation. i love that it seems you and i have hit a chord of spontaneity and sincerity. i’m excited that i no longer AT ALL know where this conversation will go. but we’ve travelled this ground before (cf Septimius, pacing back and forth across a burial plot, until the path is worn) and we’re all the same getting somewhere new (cf Septimius, but with a happier ending?). Antony seems to ask that we take him seriously, nonseriously. and that we take him nonseriously, seriously. this is a predicament. and not necessarily a queer one. tho of course the imperializing impulses of queer theory would want to say THIS IS QUEER. anything could be. what’s the difference between making a confession (your desire for “a deeply felt first-person”) and making a confession with a gun to one’s head? the holder of the gun could be the subject of an other email. ok, forgive quickness of this communique, i hope it contributes to what i most love, that we’re producing our velocity within correspondence.

much love, m

*

Dear Michael,

A couple of days have passed, days in which I’ve tried to let all of this settle. I guess part of my regret is that my end of the conversation has been somewhat insistent on thinking of Antony H. as a gay artist, reading the songs, which on the new record are without a clear libidinous direction, back against the biography. It doesn’t seem adequate to what we have on The Crying Light, and I think you are right to propose the counterexample of with Rufus Wainwright (erstwhile Antony collaborator), who wants the performance of gayness always out there on the surface. And, as my friend Wesley says, when an artist covers an entire album of another artist, then you know where their tastes lie. Rufus covered Judy Garland. That’s the performance of a protective gesture wrapped in the performance of a stereotype wrapped in a performance of virtuosity for its own sake. Instead, from Antony we get this kind of thing, “I was born to adore you, as a baby in the blind/I was born to represent you,/ to carry your head into the sun,/ to carry your face into the back of the sun/Crying Light, crying light, crying light.” I think “I was born to represent you” is an arresting thing to say in a song, in a strange, evasive, grammatically dicey song that seems half written in child language, and half in with the knowing gaze of someone long schooled in the heartbreak of the heart. And maybe the light in the song is the bright light of attention, which has to be rather overpowering, now that he has been profiled in the New York Times Magazine, and been on FRESSSSSSSSSHHHHHH AAAAAAAIIIIIIRRRRR, and just about everywhere else. Won big prizes. How to deal with the attention? And is that what he’s saying when he says he needs another world (“This one’s nearly gone”), the world that permits the unpower of Antony Hegarty, the pre-fame Antony. (In this formulation a good analogy for The Crying Light is In Utero by Nirvana.)

If there are songs that I still don’t care for somehow, on The Crying Light, like “Kiss My Name,” there are also any number of them that I find stunning now. And what I like best about the arrangements are the strange moments, like the cello and the clarinet that drone in tandem at the beginning of “Another World,” or the ominous continuo underneath “Dust and Water.” Things that are textural, and which allow the otherworldly qualities of Antony to seem more otherworldly. Moreover, every time I think I have had enough of “Epilepsy Is Dancing,” with its campy lines like “I cry glitter is love,” the song sneaks backward into the ending, “Cut me in quadrants/Leave me in the corner/Oh now it’s passing/Oh now I’m dancing,” and the strings begin to swell, along with the woodwinds, and all the cuteness of the first part of the song is erased in the Eucharistic juggernaut of its conclusion. And such a thematic does seem to me to be about how to deal with the total immersion of publicity. I guess, in the end, I still want sadness in songs, and sadness accomplishes something for me, and I am willing, on occasion, to attempt to bend the artist to my will, regardless of where he is—and as you point out yourself Antony is some kind of transcendental signifier, an artist who can be read in almost any way, and that is especially true on The Crying Light, where the lyrics give us very little that is definitive, which leads us back, again and again, to the vibrato, the counter-tenor, to the dialectic of spontaneity versus the composed or premeditated. The sad song is purgative, is Platonic, but Antony, if offering some kind of meta-narrative, refuses the purgation sometimes, but just bends the sorrow and the mystery back around on the purgation: “Inside/Myself/The secret grows/My own/Shelter . . .”

I’m forgetting which song contains the “eyes open/shut your eyes” refrain, but I keep thinking that this refrain kind of tells you what you need to know about listening here. But I was also thinking of something Foucault says of madness in Madness and Civilization, that madness is reason dazzled: “Dazzled reason opens its eyes upon the sun and sees nothing, that is does not see; in dazzlement, the recession of objects toward the depths of night has as an immediate correlative the suppression of vision itself; at the moment when it sees objects disappear into the secret night of light, sight sees itself in the moment of its disappearance.” This could easily be, with just a little syllabic finesse, a lyric on The Crying Light, which doesn’t mean that Antony’s album represents madness (because as Foucault says at the end of the book “madness is the absence of work”), but that Antony transforms his material somehow, gets beyond love song cognition, into the mythic and (I have to say it) the operatic, and we are transformed by it, and I for one, do not always want to do this work (I experience this same resistance sometimes with John Jacob Niles, whose countertenor is a lot like Antony’s) with listening. Sometimes I just want the record on in the background to decorate my time. But in Antony’s case the more attention you give, the more your participate in invitation to participate in the radically evacuated and self-protective journey, the better he gets.

Love, Rick


Rick Moody is the author of six novels, three collections of stories, a memoir, and a volume of essays, On Celestial Music. His most recent publication is Hotels of North America, a novel. With Kid Millions of Oneida, he recently released the album The Unspeakable Practices (Joyful Noise recordings). More from this author →